The Arouet Starter Kit began with one question in late 2020: “What would have been most helpful to me when I released home?” I had been struggling to come up with how to support participants coming home to a completely changed world.

Due to the pandemic, we had not been able to provide in person programming since the beginning of the year. It was a frustrating time for me, both personally and professionally, as my recovery and my own status as a directly impacted person. I knew how critical it was to know that someone cared enough about me to give me something to help make this easier.

And the answer to that question I asked myself took shape: most people leave prison with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs, giving them the tools for a fresh start could make all the difference.

It led me to more questions, what did I need in those first moments? What could have made all the difference for me? Would I have recidivated if I knew that there were people out there that cared enough about me to give me these tools?

I will never know the answer to that last question. I found out the answer to the other two, with the first starter kit I delivered.

It was dropped off at a halfway house, along with an apology, “I’m sorry this isn’t more.  I know you are literally starting from scratch.”

With tears in her eyes, she looked at me. “This means everything.  It shows me that I’m worthy and someone cares.”

The success I have today, after my third time being released from incarceration, was made possible from a stranger who took a chance on me.  Backpacks are not changing the world, but I can ensure that no one else has to wonder if someone cares. The Arouet Starter Kits with clothes, basic hygiene necessities,  gift cards and bus passes, weren’t what gave me a second chance, but today, they are definitely what allows me to help others get theirs.


Brandy Smith
Program and Outreach Manager

(Check out this video of over 40 Arouet Starter Kits being assembled, made possible by the generous donations of InsideView: )